A wonderful addition to any Yucatán itinerary, the UNESCO-listed ancient Mayan city of Uxmal is not only regarded as the most attractive of Mexico’s archaeological sites, but the peaceful vibe along with the chance to climb and explore these impressive ancient ruins, makes a visit here a wonderfully relaxed and intimate experience.
While the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá often steal all the archaeological glory, we’d highly recommend adding Uxmal, pronounced ‘Oosh-mahl,’ to your Mexican ‘must-sees.’ Not only is Uxmal more compact, it is far less crowded, and you can sometimes feel like you have the whole park to yourself. Add to this the lush green setting and the opportunity to explore some of the ruins by climbing them, makes Uxmal a delightful and relaxed place to visit. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located around 80-kilometres south of Mérida on the Yucatán Peninsula and is just over an hour’s drive from the city.
An important centre for the Mayans, Uxmal was built around 700AD, but the site was populated from around 800BC, around 1,000 years before the city was built. Interestingly, there is no evidence of there ever having been a river or water source here and so it remains a mystery as to why this area was developed. In fact, one of the features of the site are the Mayan chultunes (cisterns), which stored the water for the residents of Uxmal and perhaps this explains why the site is dedicated to Chaac, the rain god.
Uxmal is characterized by magnificent ancient temples and low horizontal palaces set around courtyards, decorated with symbolic motifs and sculptures which sit within rich green vegetation. Many of the ruins remain only partly uncovered which adds to the historic and slightly mystical atmosphere. Highlights include the Piramide del Adivino (Magician’s Pyramid) which at 37-metres tall, towers over the site; the Cuadrángulo de las Monjas (Nuns’ Quadrangle) once used for military purposes, as an academy or palatial complex; the Palacio del Gobernador (Governor’s Palace) with a 30-foot carved facade described by one scholar as the finest structure in Uxmal; the Casa de las Tortugas (House of the Turtles), in Mayan mythology the turtle symbolised rain and La Gran Piramide (The Great Pyramid), adjacent to the Governor’s Palace.
Located near the hilly Puuc district, the area around the ancient city offers the first relief from the flat scenery of the northern and western regions of the Yucatán Peninsula, adding to Uxmal’s appeal. A great base for travellers, other significant archaeological sites, including Kabah, Ek Balam and Valladolid are within easy reach, as are the caves with ancient Mayan wall paintings, Grutas de Loltun, at Oxkutzcab. For more atmosphere but equal splendour to Chichen Itzá, we would highly recommend a visit to Uxmal, but do go early to avoid the heat of the day and we’d also suggest taking a guided tour to ensure you get the most from your trip.